An animal, much like a child, is considered a helpless creature when put in a situation including being left unattended inside a vehicle. The life of the animal is in the hands of the individual who left the animal in their vehicle. Any individual who leaves an animal in a vehicle without taking proper precautions may be held liable for negligence that results in the animal’s injury or death.
An animal who is left in a vehicle is exposed to serious health risks. These may include:
- Heat stroke;
- Severe dehydration;
- Organ failure;
- Brain damage; or
A human may experience the same health risks as an animal if left in a vehicle. It is important to note, however, that animals have a fur coat as well. The most common animal to be left inside a vehicle is a dog. An individual may wonder, is leaving your dog in the car a crime? Yes, it can be.
If the outside temperatures are high and there is no ventilation in the vehicle, heat stroke and death are likely. Even if the outside air temperature is 72 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature inside a vehicle can quickly rise, causing a threat to the health and well-being of any animal inside. For example, an outside air temperature of 85 degrees Fahrenheit may cause the temperature inside a vehicle to reach 102 degrees within 10 minutes and 120 degrees within 30 minutes.
What is Animal Neglect or Animal Abuse?
Animal neglect or animal abuse are terms that refer to animals being subjected to injuries or mistreatment. Animal cruelty is the inhumane treatment of any type of animal. Animal abuse occurs when an animal is physically harmed or neglected on purpose. This includes criminal acts such as torture or poisoning.
Animal neglect, also known as animal abandonment, is a type of animal cruelty. This occurs when an individual does not provide adequate care for the animal or animals, for which they are responsible.
Animal neglect can range from minor to very severe. These cases are generally more common than instances of animal cruelty or abuse. Some cases may involve combinations of animal neglect or animal cruelty or abuse.
Leaving an animal unattended inside a vehicle is usually regulated by local ordinances or municipal codes. Any individual who leaves an animal inside a vehicle without adequate ventilation, or in extreme temperature conditions will be prosecuted.
Even if an individual did not intend to neglect their pet, they may still be charged with animal neglect. Although the penalty for leaving an animal unattended in a vehicle may be severe, it is not as severe as leaving a child unattended in a vehicle.
What is Considered an Animal?
While the answer may seem obvious, the law varies in its language regarding what is considered an animal. Some jurisdictions specifically mention dogs or cats, while others use broad language that refers to animals or mammals.
It is extremely important to review the laws in an individual’s jurisdiction. It is, however, usually safe to assume that dogs, cats, and other commonly kept pets would be considered animals under the law. If the animal is able to fit inside the vehicle and can be locked in with the windows closed, it will most likely fall under the definition of animal.
What Can a Police Officer Do to Enforce a Law Regarding an Animal in a Vehicle?
If an individual breaks an animal cruelty law by leaving an animal unattended in their vehicle, a law enforcement officer may be permitted to break the vehicle window to rescue the animal trapped inside. The law enforcement officer may also take custody of the animal.
Can I be Punished for Leaving an Animal in a Vehicle?
Yes, it is possible an individual can be punished for leaving an animal in their vehicle. The majority of cases involve a remorseful pet owner who accidentally left their pet in a hot vehicle. These cases are typically treated as misdemeanor cases. However, in cases involving animal cruelty, the prosecution and associated penalties may be much more severe.
In some states, animal neglect is considered a wobbler crime. A wobbler crime can be classified as either a misdemeanor or a felony charge, depending on the circumstances of the case. If the case is charged as a misdemeanor, a defendant may face up to 1 year in jail and criminal fines. If the case is charged as a felony, a defendant may face over 1 year in a state prison facility as well as heftier criminal fines.
If I am Charged with a Crime, are There Any Defenses?
If an individual is charged with the crime of leaving an animal unattended in a vehicle, there may be defenses available. These may include:
- Actual Danger;
- Language of the statute; or
- Other defenses.
In order to present the defense of actual danger, the animal in the vehicle must have been in actual danger. If an individual went into a store and left their vehicle windows cracked, they would be able to show that their pet was not in actual danger.
In some cases, the language of the statute may be a defense. For example, if the animal that was left in the vehicle was not specifically named in the language of the statute, an attorney may be able to argue that the statute does not apply.
There may also be other defenses available. These may include:
- Just having give the animal a drink;
- Knowing the individual would return to the car in a short period of time;
- Mild weather;
- Other defenses that may show it was not animal cruelty.
If I Want to Recover for Police Damage to My Vehicle After a Rescue Attempt of an Animal, What Do I Need to Show?
If an individual’s vehicle was damaged when a law enforcement officer attempted to rescue an unattended animal, the individual may be able to sue for trespass to chattel, though it will likely be difficult. Trespass to chattel occurs when an individual interferes with another individual’s property.
It is important to note that the government has immunity for certain actions, including those necessary for their function. Therefore, it may be difficult to show that breaking into an individual’s vehicle to rescue an unattended animal was not necessary or part of their duty of care.
It may also be difficult for an individual to bring a lawsuit due to contributory negligence. By leaving the animal unattended in their car, the individual could have caused their own car to be damaged because of their contributory negligence.
Do I Need a Criminal Defense Lawyer for an Animal Cruelty Charge?
Yes, it is essential to have the assistance of an experienced criminal lawyer if you have been charged with the crime of leaving an animal unattended in a vehicle. This is especially true if your vehicle was broken into, your pet was removed, or placed into law enforcement custody. A lawyer can review your case, assert any available defenses, and represent you during any court proceedings, if necessary.